A few new members have joined Fit 4 Life recently who have back pain and we’ve tailored their workout programmes to minimise stress to their back and spinal region. So this week I thought I would write about taking care of your back and spine as it is an area that – if it gets injured – it can really have a negative impact on the quality of your life for a long time.
Back and spine pain is something I know a lot about from personal experience. I seriously injured my lower back nearly 20 years ago and sometimes it still affects me today. In fact if I could go back and change one day in my past it would probably be August 15th, 1990 because that was the day my life changed forever.
People often hurt their back/spine by either lifting a heavy object or by twisting their spine in some unusual direction; and that’s how I injured my back while I was lifting – and twisting – while picking the back of my car up off the ground. (It’s true!)
I ruptured three lumbar discs and dislocated both of my sacroiliac joints. It took me 10 years just to get pain free and that’s only after dozens of physiotherapy and chiropractic treatments and a lot of rest. The back and hip region are also a major source of muscular strength and power, and my strength was greatly diminished from that day on. As a result of this experience I now live as a ‘wiser weaker man’ like Johnny Cash sang about in his popular song, ‘San Quentin’.
So here are my five tips for managing back pain
Seek professional medical help
When I hurt my back it took about 6 months before I even went to see a medical professional. The reason I didn’t go sooner was because I had the typical youth macho gym attitude of ‘training through the pain’. Every other injury I had had up to that time had gotten better from training through the pain – but this one didn’t… I was still hobbling around six months after the injury until my wife finally convinced me I needed to get professional medical help. I was stupid and could have recovered a lot faster if I had immediately sought proper treatment for my back injury.
If it hurts don’t do it
Another mistake I made was to continue doing exercises like deadlifts and power cleans which kept aggravating and re-injuring my back over the next 10 years. I understand that for serious gym athletes it can be hard to give up exercises that you really like and enjoy – or used to enjoy – before you got injured. But believe me, you will never heal if you keep injuring yourself, and exercises that place extreme stress directly on your injured body part should be eliminated or severely restricted if you ever hope to let your body heal and recover.
Get a good mattress
I was 25 when I injured my back and my wife and I had been married for a couple of years at that time. It can certainly be challenging for young couples to make financial ends meet, so we had bought a cheap $400 bed when we got married thinking it was a good way to save money (which we could put towards other things). That bed worked fine – until I hurt my back. Sleeping on that lousy cheap mattress which had poor lumbar and spinal support was agony. I had major sciatic and disc pain from my injury, and trying to sleep on that cheap mattress was agony! In fact it took a couple of years of disrupted sleep before I decided that the bed had to go. We ended up shelling out $2500 for a decent bed with good springs and support, and it was only then that I was finally able to get better sleep and rest which greatly helped with healing and recovery from my back pain.
Walking is a great exercise for back health and recovery. The natural gait of walking aligns your spine and hips and allows release of endorphins into your body. I recommend walking as a gentle way to begin rehabilitating your back if you have a serious back or spine injury. (Of course, if you find its aggravating your back in any way then fall back on my second point – if it hurts don’t do it! If it is hurting see your medical professional for alternative exercises).
Know your limits and use good exercise form
This is more of a preventative suggestion, but you should always use good form on your exercises. Jerking, bending, cheating, and excessive straining are techniques which you may be able to get away with for a while, but eventually you will injure yourself if you don’t use proper form. Weight training is built around the system of progressive resistance so you have to strive to use heavier and heavier weight(s) if you want to see progress. However – with the exception of powerlifters – it’s dangerous to do one repetition maximums in the compound exercises like deadlifts, squats and bench presses. Keep your repetitions in the 8-12 rep range and know your limits to decrease the possibility of serious injury – especially to an essential part of your body like your back.
Bryce – Fit 4 Life Staff